On October 1, the Federal Government launched the new Healthcare.gov website, marking the beginning of the era of the Affordable Care Act. The unveiling of the website was fairly easy to miss amidst news coverage of the government shutdown and debt ceiling debates.
The site has been up and running for over a month now, so let’s take the opportunity to check in, see what’s happening with Healthcare.gov and talk about some of the implications of the Affordable Care Act.
What Is Healthcare.gov?
Health Insurance is complicated. One of the goals of the Affordable Care Act was to create a website that would allow people to research, compare and purchase a health insurance policy in one standardized location. This is also referred to as the health insurance or health care exchange.
How Does It Work?
Visitors to the website begin by selecting which state they currently live in. Some states have their own state-run health insurance exchanges, others will use Healthcare.gov itself.
After that, visitors create a profile and begin the application process by providing information (a full checklist can be found here[GM1] ) to determine their individual eligibility. Once the information is entered, a list of health insurance options can be compared and purchased.
Per the Affordable Care Act’s provisions, all citizens are required to carry health insurance, either through their employer or a policy purchased on the exchange by January 1, 2014. Anyone not covered under an insurance policy by then could face a tax penalty. Read more about the requirements and penalties here.
Does It Actually Work?
The launch of the Healthcare.gov website has not been without its issues. Even after a month, news outlets are reporting that large numbers of potential enrollees are experiencing significant issues with the website which has made it difficult for them to get covered.
The website issues have been so severe that Secretary of Health and Human Services Kathleen Sebelius has issued a formal apology to the American people, saying that the experience has been “miserably frustrating” for many.
“You deserve better. I apologize,” says Sebelius. “I’m accountable to you for fixing these problems.”
As a result of the widespread issues, the government has extended the deadline to March 31, 2014 for people without insurance to secure coverage.
How Many People Have Signed Up?
Despite the technical issues, the Obama administration reported that over 700,000 people have applied for insurance policies via the exchange. Those numbers are as of a week ago, and represent approximately 10% of the administration’s goal of seven million enrollees.
As with anything highly political, what these early numbers mean depends on which side of the political spectrum you are. Administration officials believe that traffic will spike towards the end of the enrollment period, once all of the website issues have been worked out. Top Republicans contend that the application numbers are disappointing and a sign of a flawed system.
What Does It Mean for Me?
How the Affordable Care Act will affect you depends on whether or not you have health insurance right now, and where you get it from.
People insured through their employer probably won’t see much of a difference in their health care coverage in the short term. Unless your job has instructed you otherwise, you probably don’t have to take any action.
People without insurance need to sign up for a policy before the end of March 2014, or you could be penalized. If you’re concerned about the cost of a policy, you might be eligible for subsidies from the government, or for expanded Medicaid coverage if your state opted into the federal governments Medicaid expansion program.
If you want a simple, non-partisan look at how the law works, check out this video. It’s seven minutes long, but very informative and definitely worth it.